Writer: Brian Wood
Artists: Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli, Jeromy Cox (c)
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
Brian Wood wraps up the opening arc of his new series with this issue, and whilst it isnít necessarily the most dynamic or exciting conclusion to the first part of would-be photo-journalist Matt Rothís story, it at least stays true to the themes introduced in the first couple of issues in its examination of the real-world implications of modern urban warfare. Kicking off with a dramatic sequence which sees south Manhattan set ablaze in a hail of missiles, the story then narrows its focus to the group of soliders who pick Matt up after mistaking him for an ďinsurgent,Ē and the bloody story of their misguided attempt to recapture some of New York Cityís titular Demilitarised Zone.
I like that Wood keeps the story relatively simple here, resisting the temptation to go into too much detail about the exact nature of the dispute between the two sides in his war, or even the politics of how the conflict came about. Significantly, it doesnít even seem important what side the armed forces who appear in this issue are on, as the writer seems more interested in what kind of effect warfare has on civilians who get caught in the middle and how life goes on despite the horrors that normal people have to go through as a result. However, we donít really gain the same level of insight from this final issue of the arc as we did from the first two instalments, and part of that is due to the comparative lack of characterisation and new ideas which are introduced. Issue #1 got us used to Matt and Zee and the concept of the DMZ, and issue #2 took the reader on a rich tour of Woodís Manhattan, complete with an assortment of well-conceived and rounded characters who defied stereotype and added a very authentic edge to the book. DMZ has explored the cost of war on a very human and relatable level so far, and whilst these important elements still show through in this issue, thereís definitely a sense that the writer felt the need to punctuate his first arc with a definite ending to set up the seriesí status quo instead of letting his story simply continue. Woodís realistic cynicism nevertheless persists to make some very valid points here about how the modern military manipulate the media to their advantage, yet implies with his final few pages that Matt will attempt to use his position to provide his countrymen with a more representative view of life in the DMZ, which raises the possibility of some very interesting conflicts with his superiors in the future.
I expected this book to continue to move at its own speed, peeling away layers of the DMZ as the natural pace of the story would dictate, but the events of this issue felt forced and - for the first time - didnít seem to grow organically out of the central characters. Thatís not to say that itís a bad ending to the arc Ė indeed, the book as a whole certainly still holds a lot of promise, and Iím keen to see where it goes Ė but this issue somehow felt a little less dense and intelligently-written than the preceding two. Still, the artwork continues the good work weíve seen so far, this time mixing a couple of larger-scale shots (like the opening splashpage of Manhattan under fire) with the more intimate street-level perspective that serves the themes of the book so well. I continue to be impressed by the attention to detail which is evident in every one of Wood and Burchielliís panels, as the consistent atmosphere of decay and urban chaos is brought out effectively through the graffiti-tagged walls and bullet-ridden cars, which say as much about the warís effect on people as they do about the physical destruction of streets and buildings. Iím also enjoying the attention that has clearly been paid to the seriesí covers so far, as each one reflects the story of the issue within whilst working equally well as an isolated image. The strong sense of composition and design apparent in each one combines with a stark, attention-grabbing logo and a dark and gritty colour scheme which means youíre not going to mistake this book for any other title on the shelves.
Brian Wood has made his exploration of life in the DMZ come alive through the creation of interesting and three-dimensional characters. Matt and Zee are both great examples of complex and fully-formed personalities even at this early stage, and I hope that that element of the book isnít ignored in favour of a bigger-picture approach in future issues. A larger canvas may be useful when depicting the scale of urban degradation in New York or the impact of shock-and-awe military activity in the DMZ, but the heart of the book remains its characters and the very human outlook on war with which they provide the reader. That said, I donít want to sound like Iím being overly hard on the title, as this issue only suffers due to comparison with the very high standard established by the seriesí opening two issues. This is still a very worthwhile read with a very distinctive voice Ė and crucially, something to say - and Iím looking forward to seeing Mattís story continue in future issues.
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